Very recently, I went on a salivation trip. It was 7:30 am and I was reading my morning newspaper when suddenly my nose lead me to this piece of steamy-spicy news from a few pages on. Chennai’s traditional breakfast – idli, sambhar and filter coffee – was the most nutritious breakfast any Indian metro could produce. The survey had studied those hogging, skipping and skimping breakfasts, and the winner was clearly the white powder-puff delights. (No, I was not disappointed. I personally know that
Punjab’s Delhi’s breakfast it could never have been. The butter on the parantha would only have made the trophy slip from it's hands). As I devoured the pictures, I marked the coming Saturday as one reserved for execution of the gastronomic temptation that had just made my beaten coffee instantly look dead-beat, and how.
Now, mine is a family that loves to watch the family-income-called-peanuts get baked in patisserie ovens or tossed in stir fry vegetables, lay peppered with cheese or boil in the soup cauldron – all of that in kitchens other than mine. The end of every month sees us doing two important things: One, woefully go 'Sigh!' looking at the puny amount of savings left after our monthly consumption of it (literally); and two, burp with shameless satiety and start looking forward to another month of trying new eateries around. Since burps speak louder than sighs, we always ignore the latter and welcome the peanuts home to be consumed, in their entirety.
Mine is also a family that likes to watch its weight, well, most of the times anyway! Mister cycles 25 kms every morning and Missus runs around a toddler 24*7 sans any house help. Hence, what comes dipped in hot chocolate sauce out of the ovens is never eaten with a pinch of guilt, for we are burning it. Today, after learning that Chennai breakfast is the lightest on our coronary arteries, our faith in one of our favourite South Indian restaurants has been reinstated even more. Just drive those 9 kms to a certain roof, under which such healthy aromas and tastes flow freely. Shamelessly, I use the term ‘South Indian’ in that typical semi-literate way in which most of us from the northern side of the country do – that is, very broadly and carrying within its banana leaf folds cuisines from Andhra, Karnataka and Kerala too.
And I want to talk about one word that comes to mind when I think South Indian Restaurants, and that being Simplicity.
Banish thoughts of pretentious 5-star hotels, where dear idli recognises not itself, or the masala of dosa rests uncomfortably on Italian crockery. I talk of those eateries where dinner for two still costs within 500 bucks - generous limitless servings of sambhar, papad and chutney included. The décor is plain, usually with a hint of green but nothing fancy. The table tops are sun-mica sheets and the chairs make no attempt to look antique. Of course there’s air-conditioning, but the walls are mercifully clean of bloated food pictures, or abstract looking art. The menu card does not resemble your medical bill, and the heart beats remain calm. The food is served in classic steel crockery and with matching cutlery and glasses. The tissue papers are pink or yellow and more often than not fail to do their job. The bathrooms will offer you the facility you need, without ivory lining the floors or buttons you know not the use of. The servers make no attempt to sound like they are on a cross-country linguistic run. The cashier, usually a serious looking moustachioed fellow, sits guarding not just the registers but also the marigold-laden incense-smelling deities, who, as if intentionally made so, are always the ones to steal the show with their finery.
Notice also how, soon as one steps over the ‘Welcome’ mat and into such abodes of Gods and godly foods, all ideas of ‘status’ and ‘class’ are left outside, as one and all sit comfortably on those simple chairs and tables to dig the complex South Indian dishes served so humbly (McDonald's is another such leveller, but a near-fancy one). What pizzas could not manage, uttapam does, as use of forks and knives are put to the winds and hands realize how the word ‘handy’ was born. The carefree environment promotes talking as much as you desire and as loudly as you please. The servers are always smiling, respectful, ready to refill, to clear, to bring in more, to recommend the sweet and finally get the saunf and mishri in a tiny steel petri-dish. And no, not any strata of Delhi minds standing outside on the road of their favourite South Indian Restaurant and waiting out their 45 minutes to grab a table for 5, reservations or no reservations. Now, isn't that healthy thinking and healthy living?
If only health actually translated into wealth in the coffers! Sigh! But then, what of that. My peanuts have arrived into my account. And chances are this month will see us dipping them in sambhar more often than before, and it's going to be finger-licking good.
Burp! Oops, excuse me, please!
Burp! Oops, excuse me, please!